(TOLEDO, Ohio – January 8, 2015) – Eight-time ARCA winner Jimmy Horton recalls one of his favorite memories as being the moment he rolled into victory lane at Daytona Int’l Speedway for the first time on February 11, 1990.
“I remember pulling into victory lane at Daytona for the first time…that was a big deal…a feeling I’ll always remember. It definitely stands out as one of the best,” Horton said.
In fact it was the start of five consecutive superspeedway victories, returning to the win column at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3-17-90), Talladega Superspeedway (5-5-90), Pocono Raceway (6-16-90) and the next one at Pocono a month later on July 21. Horton is still the only ARCA driver in history to win five consecutive ARCA superspeedway races. He also won ARCA races at Talladega in ’91, Daytona again in ’92 and Atlanta in ’95. But his five straight ARCA speedway wins are only one remarkable achievement among so many…so many it’s hard to figure out where to start.
Rick Sweeten Images
And for Horton to single out any one win is worth noting considering just how much time the Somerville, New Jersey driver has spent in winner circles across America, most often in the heavily populated modified country in the northeast.
To give some perspective on his incredible career, Horton, 58, won the dirt modified track championship at Bridgeport Speedway a record nine times, and his first there in 1975. So to cut to the chase and answer the question… “Where are they now?...Horton is still hanging around Bridgeport, right where he started…in victory lane and in the championship column winning the modified track title again in 2014, 40 years following his first title at the five-eighths-mile New Jersey dirt track.
The 2015 season will mark his 43rd consecutive season of racing. In addition to 30 track championships and/or touring series titles, Horton won his 426th dirt modified main event in September of 2014. He’s won at least one feature event in 41 consecutive seasons, his first coming in his father’s car at Nazareth on May 19, 1974.
“I actually ran a handful of races in 1973, but I crashed the car too many times (seven) and Dad took it away. I took it back and crashed three more times.”
But Horton did not give up, and returned in ’74.
“First race back in ’74, I finished second. Before the year was up, I had 10 wins and two track championships. I was just a cocky, snot-nosed kid, but I told myself right from the start that if I didn’t win a feature in any one year, I’m gunna quit. I never didn’t win, so I’m still here. I know I’m getting to the end of my career, but I like to think that I’ve got two or three years left.
“Personally, I feel I’m still as sharp as I ever was. I don’t take as many stupid risks…my moves are more calculated. When I was younger though, if I didn’t take that chance, I would have finished fifth rather than winning.
“My dad’s 81 and still goes to the track with me. I asked him on the way home from somewhere last year: ‘Have I lost anything?’ His answer was, ‘You gotta work harder on your car.’”
To add more perspective on Horton’s amazing career, he recalls racing against northeast modified master Bobby Gerhart, Sr., father of the eight-time Daytona ARCA 200 winner Bobby Gerhart, Jr.
“In the beginning, I was racing against Bobby Gerhart, Sr., (Dick) Toby Tobias (lost his life in a sprint car at Flemington in 1978), Kenny Weld, Pee Wee Griffin, Wayne Reutimann (Sr.) and Frankie Schneider.” Schneider, a motorsports icon in the northeast, was born in 1926, and was racing fulltime by 1947.
“Most of those guys are gone, but I’m still racing with a lot of the same guys I’ve been racing against for the last 30 years…guys like Brett Hearn, Alan Johnson and Danny Johnson. We all started about the same time…we grew up together. I raced against Donnie Kreitz, Sr. and Kenny Brightbill too. Kenny was one of the toughest guys I ever raced against…he just never gave up...right to the final inch.”
It doesn’t sound like Horton gave up easily either. Among his 426 small or big block modified wins, 124 in this category were extra distance races. There were also 83 DIRT sanctioned big block modified victories and two (1987 and 1994) wins in the prestigious Super Dirt Week Syracuse 200 at the New York State Fairgrounds mile dirt.
Horton also hopped in sprint cars every now and then and won there too…26 feature events in URC, All Star Sprints and open competition shows across Pennsylvania.
“I raced modifieds all my life. Then, in ’79 or ’80 a guy asked me to run his sprint car. I had never driven one, but I thought, heck, why not? I won my first sprint car feature in my first try at Bridgeport. It was a pink no. 2 car.”
He also competed in only one USAC (Silver Crown) Champ Dirt Car event in his career and, oh by the way, he won that too.
“It was with the Mataka Brothers…they were longtime USAC members…used to go to their shop when I was a kid to check out their cars. USAC was running a double-header at Flemington Saturday and Nazareth Sunday. Somebody else didn’t run so well on Saturday so they called me Sunday morning to see if I’d be interested in running Sunday. I got there…they had four different tires on the car. I wouldn’t say it was exactly top-notch equipment. The track was rough and I hit a rut in practice and knocked the nose piece in. They were all mad and wanted to load up. I convinced them to at least qualify the car.
“We went out and qualified fourth…best they’d qualified in two years. I remember meeting Ken Schrader that day. When it went green, Gary Bettenhausen was leading and I was running second. He blew a right-rear tire, then I drove away. Can’t say I would have passed him, but I was right on his bumper anyway.”
Since that time, Horton and Schrader have become good friends.
“We usually talk about once a month…give each other a holler.”
As you might expect, given all those years racing, he’s been banged up a time or two.
“Been banged up a couple times…broke a wrist at Syracuse…a couple concussions up there. The one that tried to kill me was in Kenny Schrader’s car at Atlanta. I broke both shoulder blades, cracked my skull, cracked a vertebrae in by back…a concussion. I was lucky…that was the last race of the season so I had all winter to get better.”
Schrader and Horton have raced against each other several times over the years.
“I raced against Jimmy a bunch,” Schrader said. “We sent him to the hospital in our ARCA car at Atlanta…big wreck. He’s a really good racer…the complete package. He’s one of these guys who can literally build a car right from the tubing rack, set it up when it’s done, and drive the wheels off it when he gets there. As far as the complete package, there aren’t too many who can out-run him. It doesn’t matter what series Jimmy races in…he’s good at it no matter what it is. Excellent racer.”
Horton also made it to the highest levels of NASCAR, competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, making 60 Sprint Cup Series starts between 1987 and 1998.
“I would have liked to have done some things differently…would have liked to have made it in NASCAR, but my timing was wrong. When I was really young, car owners and sponsors weren’t interested in young kids back then. They wanted older, more experienced drivers. By the time I got the chance to go there, I was 32, and by then they were looking at the young kids coming along. But I’m not complaining. When I think about the things I’ve accomplished, it amazes me when I look back at it. When I was out of NASCAR, I just went back modified racing.”
When Horton first started his career in ’73, the modifieds back then were homemade creations, unlike the production-line chassis that come off the manufacturing grids nowadays.
“When I first started, they were all homebuilt. We’d transform a street frame into a two-by-four frame. I built my own cars back then. But then, the production models came out and they were faster, so it didn’t pay to build your own.”
Big block modifieds today are 468 cubic inch engines that make 900 horsepower, more than a Cup car or an ARCA car. They are, by all accounts, awesome machines.
“I don’t get too nervous to race. I’ve always been nervous to qualify…worried about making the race. I’ve always been that way, but I still enjoy it. I still get to race against some of the best racers in the country…Matt Sheppard in DIRT, Tim McCreadie, Brett Hearn, Alan and Danny Johnson…Billy Pauch. We’ve been racing with each other forever. Me and Billy (Pauch) grew up together…drank beer at the bars when we were 18.”
Except for the Syracuse 200, there are no two-way radios allowed in small block and big block modified competition...only one-way with the tower. There are no spotters either...kind of old school...kind of like Jimmy Horton.
Special thanks to Herb Anastor for helping with all the stats and records
Jimmy Horton Select Stats
41 Winning Seasons (1974-2014)
426 Career Modified/Small-Block Modified Victories
30 Track or Series Championships
133 Bridgeport (NJ) Speedway Modified Wins. (127 Big-Block [track record] & 6 DIRT 358/Small-Block Modified)
9 Bridgeport Speedway Modified Championships. (1975, ’77, ’80, ’82, ’83, ’97, ’98, 2003 & 2014) (track record)
1 Bridgeport Speedway DIRT 358 Modified Championship (2005)
30 Winning Seasons at Bridgeport Speedway (track record). (29 Modified plus two SBM-only Victories in 2007)
6 Modified victories in a row at Bridgeport Speedway. (track record set in 2004)
116 East Windsor (NJ) Speedway Modified Victories (53 Big-Block [track record]/63 Small-Block [3rd all-time])
5 East Windsor Speedway Championships. (Modified 1977-1980; Small-Block 2000)
2 New Egypt (NJ) Speedway Modified Championship (2004 & 2006)
20 New Egypt Speedway Modified Victories
35 DIRT Extra-Distance Modified Victories
82 DIRT Big-Block Modified Wins (total)
8 DIRT 358 Modified Wins (total)
Two-time (1987 & 1994) SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 Winner
Two-time (1991 & 1995) Eastern States 200 Winner